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Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): May I press the Leader of the House on a matter that has already been raised twice, namely the Public Administration Committee's report? Does he recognise that the report speaks of the importance of "maintaining the momentum", and outlines a programme involving a Government response in April and a draft Bill in June? Does he agree that that is an entirely reasonable timetable, to which the Government should seek to adhere?
Mr. Cook: I fully accept the importance of maintaining the momentum on this issue, and I welcome the fact, as I have said, that the Select Committee has demonstrated that it is possible, by unanimity, to achieve consensus. We shall continue to look for that, and to try to identify that centre of gravity. Given that that will necessarily mean trying to find common ground among people of different views, I would not fix myself to a particular date on the calendar, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are trying to maintain that momentum.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): The Leader of the House has heard the surprise expressed on both sides of the House about the lack of a statement on the energy policy announcement today, although it may fashion energy policy for the next 20 years. He is also reluctant to take any further questions about a debate on the subject of the British company LNM. May I suggest a way of killing two birds with one stone, to save parliamentary time? Will the right hon. Gentleman instigate a debate on energy policyand, in particular, energy efficiencyto consider the interests of British companies operating in eastern Europe, especially steel companies in Romania, in relation to their energy efficiency and their record on greenhouse gas emissions, and in relation to the question of improving energy efficiency, in contrast to companies operating more conventionally in the United Kingdom which may be called British companies? Such considerations could also examine whether energy inefficiency and greenhouse gas emissions by British companies now operating in Romania should count against greenhouse gas emission targets for British companies operating out of the United Kingdom. That is a very important point.
Mr. Cook: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity, although I nearly got lost halfway through the long paragraph that followed his opening question. We should remain clear, in all our exchanges on this matter, that we want countries in central and eastern Europe, such as Romania, to come into the European Union. We want to support the steps that are necessary for that, such as economic reform and the privatisation of their big state monopolies. We certainly also want them to play their
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 755, on gender equality in the Church of England, which notes that the Church of England and, of course, the Church in Wales are exempted from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
[That this House notes the Church of England is exempted from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 due to the attitudes and activities of a minority who are in disagreement with the ordination of women; affirms the need to strengthen and forward the movement against discrimination on grounds of gender; trusts the Church will thus be encouraged to catch up speedily with the vast majority of institutions; and believes that the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury could provide the perfect opportunity to forge leadership which would unite the Church of England behind justice for women and end the unfortunate and embarrassing need for 'flying' bishops.]
I remind my right hon. Friend that, sadly, the Church in Wales has lagged behind the Church of England in respect of the ordination of women. Does he agree that, if the established Church and other denominations wish to be relevant in contemporary society, they must abide by the principle of equality for women and men before the law?
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will know from his sojourn in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the Republic of Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau to some extent mirrors the body that we are trying to introduce through the Proceeds of Crime Bill. On a recent visit to Dublin, we discovered a basic difference between that Bill and similar legislation in that country. Our Bill will affect only criminals who have appeared before the courts twice. Before it completes its remaining stages in the House and the other place, can we establish whether it is wise to allow two strikes in that way? As our experience shows, many godfathers who have never appeared before the courts have enriched themselves through the proceeds of crime.
Mr. Cook: I assume from the hon. Gentleman's last point that he is fully behind the Bill's principle, which is to ensure that criminals cannot profit from their crimes and that such profits can be returned to the community. Of course, there will be an opportunity to explore the Bill's detail during the two full days of its remaining stages. We have given an undertaking that there will be six full hours of debate on both days, and the hon. Gentleman still has time to table an amendment if he so wishes.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Does my right hon. Friend recall his answer to my request of several months ago, during business questions, for a debate on the energy review? He said that the appropriate time for such a debate was following the review's publication. Notwithstanding his assurance that the Government will make a statement on the energy review in due course,
Mr. Cook: Of course, I am well aware that my hon. Friend and several other hon. Members have expressed an interest in the energy review as it has proceeded, but I repeat that the review is not yet complete. There must be a Government response to the study, which may be published in the form of a Government publication, and which will certainly be introduced in a statement in the House. Of course, any Member can seek to debate the matter in, for example, Westminster Hall, and I am sure that a number of my colleagues will examine such options.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Leader of the House has announced only one day for debating the final stages of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill. Because of the shambolic way in which the Government administered and programmed its Committee stage, at least 36 clauses and seven schedules remain entirely undiscussed. The Bill deals with very important matters, and although it does not give rise to controversy between the parties, details such as the introduction of an entirely new youth justice system in Northern Ireland are terribly important. That is a poor way to treat the people of Northern Ireland and a dreadful way to treat legislation. Will the Leader of the House reconsider the way in which the Bill is proceeding in Committee?
Mr. Cook: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the Bill, which reforms the court system, is an important one for the people of Northern Ireland, and I hope that the House can make progress on it. I should point out that adequate time was provided for its consideration in Committee, although I fully understand his frustration with those proceedings. Programme motions provide a basis for full scrutiny of a Bill, but they do impose a discipline on members of the Committee to ensure that debate focuses on the major issues.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): My right hon. Friend spoke previously about the Government requiring a lengthy period of reflection to digest the comments on Lords reform. Given that a unanimously agreed Public Administration Committee report was completed in little more than a month, will the Government stick to the convention of replying to it within two months?
Mr. Cook: I congratulate my hon. Friend on having joined the consensus on the Committee and I even more warmly congratulate the Chairman of the Committee on having persuaded him to do so. I do not recall using the word "lengthy" for the period of reflection, but I would not wish to use the word "rushed". We must proceed with care, but also with all expedition to ensure that we maintain the momentum to which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred earlier. The requirement on the Government is to respond to Select Committee reports within two months and we shall endeavour to achieve that deadline.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Following the precedent that has now been set by the Prime Minister in lobbying for small companies, will the Leader of the House today give us an assurance that in future, Ministers will always be ready to meet companies that employ perhaps 200 constituents and which have problems with Government policy, whether or not the companies have given money to the Labour party?